SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA) held its 2017 annual public meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 6:30 p.m. at Boccone South in South Orange.

At this meeting, the SOVCA Board of Directors discussed the successful, and less successful, ventures of 2016, presented new event sponsorship opportunities for  2017, and opened the floor to residents and business representatives to give feedback and ask questions about the SOVCA.

Also presented were several marketing and branding initiatives for the new year. Given South Orange’s ethnic and social diversity among residents, visitors, Seton Hall University students, and business owners, one of the new campaigns to encourage people to visit South Orange is “Everybody Belongs Here.”

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“No matter what you look like, no matter who you love, you should come to South Orange,” said Matt Glass, Chair of SOVCA’s Board of Directors.

Other new initiatives from SOVCA include the “I don’t need a bag” campaign, which is aimed at reducing waste in the South Orange Village Center, and the “Live Music Capital of North Jersey” campaign that seeks to further integrate live music into all facets of the South Orange experience.

Adding prospective businesses to South Orange was also discussed, as was the high consumer demand for certain stores and restaurants, advocating for local businesses, and gathering the information needed to understand what makes a successful business district.

There is a need for an “effective retail mix” in apparel, gifts, home furnishings, gourmet foods, and a greater diversity of restaurants, according to Bob Zuckerman, Executive Director of the SOVCA.

New businesses slated for 2017 include an apparel store called “Mod Studio,” an art supply store, Artistry Salon at Third and Valley, the possibility of a gift store, and new restaurants.

Zuckerman also said that the SOVCA hoped to incorporate the concept of co-op retail into the downtown area. This would offer small retail businesses – like the Pop-Up Shop from the spring and holiday seasons of 2016 – affordable space within the existing infrastructure , which would lessen the burden of a start-up operation.

Although new and creative ventures are being sought out by the community, some challenges and concerns were stated by members of the community during the Q&A such as lack of sufficient parking, some unsafe crosswalks, and early closings of store operations.

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum addressed parking concerns, stating that the town is already in the process of implementing a parking “masterplan.” Alternative methods of transportation and walkability have been proactively considered by the village, Collum said.

Other challenges that Zuckerman touched on included the older infrastructure of South Orange buildings, New Jersey’s liquor license laws, and the limited retail use caused by outdated ordinances.

SOVCA sponsored events such as Play Day South Orange, the Farmer’s Market ,and the Halloween Festival are among successful 2016 promotions that are being planned again for 2017.

South Orange is a “hot town,” Zuckerman said, adding that South Orange is number three in the residential market, according to NJ.com. Zuckerman also noted that seven new businesses have opened since the start of 2016: Noodlefan, Pet Wants, BGR, Yoni Kreger, Village Family Medicine, Café Word, and Gallery OVO.

Two SOVCA Board members, Ben Salmon, who is also Vice Chair, and Michael Feinberg, are resigning.

Zuckerman also stated that the village’s anchor institutions, Seton Hall University and the South Orange Performing Arts Center “are stronger than ever,” adding “people believe in South Orange.”